Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The 'Moby-Dick" book tour, continued! Fargo, ND

I just realized I had completely forgotten to post these photos on the blog. I did post them on my Facebook page, but there's more room here for my thoughts, so I like to do that too.

In spite of the fact that I thought the New York / Philadelphia events of last November and December would be the last, I was wrong. Filmmaker, professor, and artist Greg Carlson of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota was kind enough to arrange a trip for me to the Fargo, North Dakota / Moorhead, Minnesota area for me to talk about my book to faculty and students as well as to work with him on a video installation project titled "Or, the Whale." More on that soon.

This was very exciting for me. I have never been to Fargo at all, and I was fascinated by its reputation as one of the coldest and snowiest places in the United States. I absolutely despise the cold weather, the ice, the snow, the gray skies and the darkness, and yet strangely all of these things made me want to visit Fargo even more. It was a kind of test, I think...a way to subject myself to something so foreign, so challenging, and so frightening that I couldn't refuse. The fact that Greg wanted me to visit in late January, when the temperature averaged 1 degree Fahrenheit for the high only made it all the more intriguing.

As always, I took an enormous amount of pictures which I would like to share. And it is important for me to mention that Greg and, literally, every single person I met in Fargo and Moorhead were amazingly kind. I truly had a fantastic time and I have never ever been treated with that kind of friendliness and hospitality anywhere. I would actually love a chance to return to Fargo, regardless of the month, and I still miss everyone I met. Okay, on to the pictures...

From the airplane window. I don't know why since I should have expected it, but I was awed by how flat everything was...


My first look at the airport in Fargo. I suppose I am some kind of travel snob, which is difficult to admit, because I am used to airports being vast places packed with people rushing to and fro, and this one was quite small, very quaint, and a bit dated. Which I still found immensely charming, and in retrospect, I think I much prefer this. Obviously, there were very few people on my flight...


My wife and family were kind enough to prepare me for the trip with the Christmas gift of an incredibly warm (Arctic rated!) new Columbia coat, gloves and skull hat since the cold would be so severe. And it was. Here I am, dressed for the Fargo weather and standing in front of the Concordia College Cobbers sign!


My first event, the night that I arrived from Ohio, was a book talk on the campus of Concordia College. Similar to what I've done at my other events, but this one was exciting because I knew I would be able to share the story with students, artists, and educators and that always means a great deal to me. My wife is a librarian and college professor too, after all. The event was held in the R.E. "Ed" Fuglestad room at Concordia, guarded by this impressive bust...


My book was to be sold at the event too. Boxes of them, fresh from Tin House, and ready to go. And...we sold out! Awesome!


The inside of the Fuglestad Room with these absolutely awesome orange chairs. There in the middle of the photo is the talented Mr. Matt McGregor who, in addition to a number of other talents, was the cameraman and photographer for most of the weekend. He was filming my book talk for possible use in a Moby-Dick documentary.


See? Documentary warnings all over Fuglestad...


After my book talk, as is my practice, I signed and drew in everyone's copy of the book. This is a student named Ashley, and the conversation we had while I drew in her book was by far the most unique and intriguing that I have had at any book event. Ever.


After the book talk, with me and all my new North Dakota / Minnesota friends. From left to right, Mighty Mike Scholtz (who gave me my wake-up calls and drove me around all weekend), Greg Carlson (the whole reason I was there in the first place), me, someone whose name I can unfortunately not recall (we only met very briefly), the Rezl (yes, the Rezl!) and the brilliant and lovely Christina Johnson...


Returning cameras and equipment to proper rooms. Mike had been sent this cool Rise of the Planet of the Apes poster and he wanted to send a photo of it to his girlfriend so he took this. This picture kind of summed up the whole weekend, in a weird way...


The next day, Friday January 20th, was an exciting one. Greg and Mike and Matt were going to film me talking about my favorite single issue of a comic book (that would be Swamp Thing issue #60, "Loving the Alien") for another documentary series they are working on titled Single Issues. For this, we shot some interview footage in Concordia's library, and this was my view...


Matt McGregor behind the camera, with Greg Carlson consulting...


Mighty Mike Scholtz, who did the actual interviewing for the piece. Looking rather sickly, it seems. And that is the intern, Maria, behind him. She was cool and tough as nails too. She walked around Moorhead with no gloves when the temperature was maybe 3 degrees, and she cut her hand, bled all over the place and didn't even notice. Awesome.


Yes, this college library actually DOES have a fishbowl room!



I made them drive me around Fargo in the afternoon because I wanted to see more of this place...


There had actually been very little snowfall by the time I had arrived, which I was told is highly unusual for a Fargo January. In spite of that, it was still BITTERLY cold. Anyway, here is Steve's Package Store...


After our afternoon drive, it was back to Concordia College (just across the Red River from Fargo, in Moorhead, Minnesota) to shoot more documentary footage in their art building. Apparently this was Michaela's station, so I wasn't allowed to touch anything...


The whole unsavory crew, getting ready for more filming. From left to right, Mighty Mike Scholtz, Greg Carlson, and Matt McGregor...


Mike actually interviewing me during the filming. If you look closely, you can see the giant glowing halo of genius and creativity eminating from my head...


I told them I wanted to see the REAL Fargo. Not buildings and people and stuff, but a wild, barren, arctic waste with blasting winds where icy death stalked the land. And they sure as hell obliged. We drove maybe 5 or 10 minutes outside of town to this. Not a SOUL in sight. Anywhere...


Yes, that actually is the wind blowing the tassles of my hat completely horizontal. The wind never stopped. EVER.


Greg on the left and Matt behind the camera, filming me experiencing the REAL Fargo. And freezing. Nearly to death.


More of me braving the lunar cold and praying that my face will thaw and that my glasses won't freeze to my skin...



The Scandinavian influence absolutely fascinated me, and I was thrilled to see signs like these. Trolls!



My last day, Saturday January 21, was the big day. Greg was going to film me and actress Tierney Michon, who plays the role of Pippi in Greg's video installation piece Or, the Whale painting a MASSIVE image of a white whale on plexiglass. The plexi measured 4 feet by 8 feet, and Tierney and I would be filmed from the front so that as we painted the image, we would gradually obscure ourselves from view. It would take hours, but the film would be sped up so that in only 60 seconds an entire piece would be created and we would have disappeared, swallowed up by the art. It was fascinating. Here is the plexiglass, ready for us to paint...


A strange handpainted sign in the room where we were to paint. Just what does "Awsomeness" equal"


In order to make sure that the image of the camera was not reflected on the plexiglass, Matt had to get creative with this shroud and a carefully placed slit. And hand, apparently...


The Rezl (see above) stopped by and was so blown away by a can of paint from Menard's that within seconds he spilled it everywhere...


Me, in the hooded sweatshirt, talking about how we would proceed on the collaborative painting with actress Tierney Michon who, despite her nervousness, turned out to be quite a gifted artist...


A meeting of the minds. Matt, Greg and me making sure we're all on the same page before beginning. There was no going back once we started, so it had to be right from the very beginning...


Mighty Mike Scholtz, who was in a nearby room editing video...


Tierney and I begin to paint...




The painting really starts to take shape. This was such a fascinating experience for me because, within the narrative of this film, I was to function as a sort of "teacher" for Tierney so we wanted that to be reflected in the process. She confessed that she had never really painted or drawn much before, but we both felt it was important for her to take the lead and for this image to be one of her creation. We started with a few sketches, and when she was comfortable with the direction we were headed in, she begain to paint. I assisted, and built on what Tierney did, but in every way this was a collaboration led by her vision...


It took hours and hours, so we did need to break a few times. Here, Tierney considers the work so far...


Work continues...



And finally, from many angles, the finished, massive painting. 32 square feet of art...




Two shots of the exhausted but delirious crew. From left to right, me, Mike Scholtz, Tierney Michon and Matt McGregor...


From left to right, Greg Carlson, me, Mike Scholtz and Tierney Michon...


Finally, early on Sunday morning, just before I flew home, it snowed. A lot! Here is the view from my hotel room window as I woke up...


I stepped out of the lobby to take these. Two views of downtown Fargo, very early on a January Sunday morning. Nary a soul to be seen...



I'll have a few videos I took in a day or so. Good stuff there. I had a really fantastic time in Fargo, and I owe a big debt of gratitude to Concordia College and Greg Carlson for bringing me there and taking care of me and to Mike Scholtz, Tierney Michon, Matt McGregor, the Rezl, Christina Johnson and Ashley for friendship, kindness and surprises.

And, looking at these again, I really REALLY want to do some large scale paintings. Like 4 feet by 6 feet. I will, soon. But another secret project, soon to be revealed, must come first.

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